What’s the difference, you may wonder?
How many bosses have you had so far? And how many of them have demonstrated leadership through their thoughts and action?
While I let you reflect for a few moments and do the math, consider this statement of fact:
All leaders can be bosses. But not all bosses are leaders.
There is no simple answer.
There is no single answer.
Here’s my take:
Choosing a leader is an art
When someone is picked for a leadership position, often it is not carefully considered. Some thought does go into it. But it’s not enough. Purely on account of skill, experience does not necessarily qualify you as a leader. You may be highly talented but still not cut out to be a leader.
Picking leaders is an art. It needs to be done by the best. Not everyone is adept to do this right. In such cases, it may work better to have a core team experienced in selecting leaders. The team evaluates the recommended candidate for a leadership position on various parameters and communicates its decision to the hiring manager and talent acquisition team.
How does this team pick a leader? What are the key characteristics they look for? Here’s a list of essential traits that are “must-have” in order to qualify as a leader. This is my own list. Anyone who fits all the criteria is a sure pick. But if a candidate possesses half or more of these traits, I’d keep her in consideration.
10 Qualities That Define a Great Leader
LEADERSHIP is a ten-letter word. Each of these letters stands for a quality that helps make a leader.
A leader needs to be a good listener. You cannot be a leader if you do not have the intent and patience to hear out. Most bosses are known to speak but very few have the will and patience to listen. It is the most underrated attribute but has a tremendous bearing on how a leader is perceived.
It’s not enough to listen. A leader must feel empathy. It’s the ability to put oneself in the shoes of the other. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, you can try to cultivate it. But there’s no way you can do without it if you aspire to be a great leader.
A leader needs to be approachable and available when most required. If one does not feel confident to approach you with an issue, you aren’t a good leader. As a leader, the onus is on you to inspire confidence in others to approach you and share their problems or concerns.
Will it help if you are accessible but not available?
It serves no point if people are comfortable approaching you, but you are never around. You may be busy at that moment, but you need to make time to hear out if someone needs your attention. Call back, or schedule for another time or day. But you must make yourself available when you’re needed.
Decisiveness is a key attribute when it comes to a leader. A leader cannot be wishy-washy. For instance, the ability to promptly decide what works, what does not, and what can be done to make it work is the hallmark of a good leader.
Many leaders find it tough to make up their minds. And others cannot put a finger on what’s wrong or how it can be set right.
You need to have clarity of thought and be able to communicate the same to be an effective leader. It saves considerable time and heartburn if you can do so.
As a leader, you’ve got to empower your team. Encourage them to decide for themselves. They should not fall back on you unless it’s a key decision for which they need your buy-in. Or if they are in a quandary and need your guidance to put things in perspective.
If you allow your team to depend on you for day-to-day decision-making, you are fostering inefficiency.
A leader needs to be respectful to one and all. You’ve got to respect not just your seniors but everyone from the top to the bottom.
You can’t command respect unless you give respect. It’s a two-way street.
Often, leaders feel entitled. And that causes them to be disrespectful. Do not fall into that trap if you desire to be a leader.
This is where some bosses fail miserably. You cannot be a leader if you are insecure about yourself. You need to be confident to be able to empower others. An insecure boss can never be comfortable with the idea of empowering others.
Humility is an innate character trait. But you can acquire humility over the years if you play full out. Till it becomes second nature.
Those who feel they are God’s gift to their profession, organisation, or team, are not cut out to be a leader.
This is inherent in the character of the individual. But it can be learned. If you have integrity, you will automatically command respect. It’s a quality in very short supply. Those who have it treasure it.
All things remaining equal (with competitors or contemporaries), it is the passion that makes the difference. If you are passionate, you strive to excel. And put your heart and soul into the process.
Passion is often contagious. Your passion can inspire those around you to give their best.
Passion breeds excellence. It is a naturally productive ingredient if you’ve it.
Why mentoring is key, once recruited
Selecting the right candidate for a leadership position is half the battle won. But what’s essential is to put in place a mechanism that fosters mentoring.
In many cases, if not most, there is no handholding once recruited into a leadership position. By and large, the chosen candidate is expected to figure it out along the way. A few do. Some do not. Or take too much to figure out.
Mentoring is an efficient and effective way to help navigate and negotiate the new environment, processes, and people. Organisations that follow a mentoring culture reap the benefits for a long period of time.
Key habits a leader must internalise
Having the right qualities to be a leader and having benefitted from mentoring is a great way to start. But that’s not all.
A leader must be cognisant of some key habits that accomplished leaders follow. Below are some that are top of my mind.
A good leader:
- takes the blame for errors or omissions made by his team
- makes it a point to credit the team members responsible for success instead of appropriating the credit for good work done.
- communicates in terms of We, Us, Together, etc. not I, Me, and Myself
- puts team before self, almost always thinks of the team first.
- bosses the least.
- does not throw her/his weight around.
The best leaders are those you can’t guess when in a group with the team. Their conduct won’t give them away. There is no air of authority you can feel. They integrate so well into the team, that it’s hard to tell who the boss is.
The difference between a good and a ‘great’ leader
Once you’ve all these qualities and you’ve internalised the good habits that define a successful leader, you stand a chance to be considered in the pantheon of great leaders. But not before the final test. And this one is the toughest.
Make yourself redundant.
This is the real test of your leadership. If you can do this, there is no better way to demonstrate your leadership skills and abilities.
This may take time to do but once you can accomplish it, you gain access to the exclusive club of great leaders. You will be delighted to know that contrary to other exclusive clubs, membership is always open here. But there are very few applicants who qualify.
How do you see yourself? Are you a leader or a boss? If you haven’t reached that stage yet, you can chart your path ahead. Now that you know what it takes to be a great leader, what are you waiting for?
Go for it!